A History in Orthodontics: From Early Braces to Invisalign

Written by: Sam Ghosh

Teenage girl smiling with clear braces

Updated September 9, 2021

When people think of orthodontics, they think of technology and modern practice. In reality, orthodontics is an old practice that has been around for centuries. People have been using tools to straighten their crooked teeth since ancient times. 

Here is a brief history of braces and how orthodontics has advanced into the practice that we know today.

Ancient Civilizations and Braces

The first instance of braces being used was 3,000 years ago. The Etruscans, ancient Greeks, and ancient Egyptians discovered that you can apply pressure on the teeth to create a straight smile over time. 

Archaeologists have discovered bodies and mummies with metal bands on their teeth and hypothesized that this is the work of an ancient orthodontist. Instead of using modern orthodontic wire, this orthodontist used catgut to close the gaps between the teeth. Some believe that instead of using these devices for cosmetic purposes, they were used in burial ceremonies to preserve the teeth. 

Malocclusion research also began around this time. The Greek physician and the Father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, wrote the first known descriptions of malocclusion in 400 B.C.

Orthodontics in the Middle Ages

Scholars worked on researching and practicing general dentistry during the 16th century, but orthodontics did not make much progress. During the middle ages, dentistry was the main focus. Dental students in France could go to a dedicated dental university in 1580.

Orthodontic Advances in the 17th and 18th Centuries

The groundwork for rudimentary orthodontics was done mainly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mattheus Gottfried Purmann and Phillip Pfaff made the first wax impressions of dental patients to create molds, a practice that is still used today. 

In 1728, Pierre Fauchard wrote the first book dedicated to general dentistry, The Surgeon Dentist: A Treatise on the Teeth. In this book, he discussed the bandeau, an orthodontic appliance that he invented. The bandeau was a horseshoe-shaped piece of metal that could be tied to the teeth to widen the arch, treat crowding, and expand the palette. 

Etienne Bourdet, the dentist to the King of France, wrote The Dentist’s Art in 1757. In this book, Bourdet dedicated a chapter to teeth alignment and orthodontic appliances to straighten and move teeth. He was also the first known dentist to recommend the extraction of premolars to relieve crowding. The Natural History of Human Teeth was written in 1771 by John Hunter, a Scottish surgeon. In this book, he discussed the anatomy of the mouth and teeth and coined many terms. Names for different types of teeth, like molars, incisors, cuspids, and bicuspids can all be attributed to Hunter. Hunter later wrote A Practical Treatise on Diseases of the Teeth, a sequel work.  

The 19th Century: The Development of Orthodontics

Orthodontics did not truly develop as a science until the middle of the 19th century. In 1841, Pierre Joachim Lafoulon coined the term orthodontia, which is drawn from the Greek words for straight and tooth. During this time period, orthodontists invented the wire crib, developed orthodontic rubber bands, and the ability to x-ray was discovered in the 1890s which would eventually be routinely used for diagnosing orthodontic issues. The first texts on orthodontics were written in the latter half of the 19th century. Norman W. Kingsley wrote A Treatise on Oral Deformities in 1880, the first book to describe the craniofacial abnormality cleft palate and how orthodontists should treat the problem.

The 20th Century and Beyond: Braces and Invisalign

The 20th century saw more advancements, many of which we still use today. An American dentist named Edward H. Angle developed a classification system for malocclusion that is still in practice by modern orthodontists. He went on to establish the American Society of Orthodontia in 1900, which we know today as the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO). Angle also founded the first orthodontic school and the first orthodontic journal. 

In 1929, the American Board of Orthodontics was founded, making it the first specialty board in the dental profession. 

Braces in the early 20th century were often made of gold or silver because they were easy to bend and shape into their desired form. Other metals used at the time were platinum, ivory, steel, zinc, copper, brass, vulcanite, gum rubber, and even wood.  Orthodontists didn’t start using stainless steel for braces until the late 1950s or early 1960s. 

In the 1950s, the use of X-rays was routinely used to diagnose orthodontic issues. 

As time went on, orthodontists sought ways to make appliances more comfortable and less noticeable, leading to innovations for modern braces like ceramic appliances and Invisalign. Ceramic braces and Damon clear braces can help give patients a more discreet braces treatment. Stainless steel is still used, predominantly in a lingual procedure that places the bracket and wires on the inside of the teeth so as to not be visible. 

Now, we have completely invisible orthodontic treatment options available like Invisalign and Dr. Ghosh’s SmyleAlign™. These treatment options use a series of clear aligners created from a base mold of the patient’s mouth, gradually straightening the teeth with each new tray. 

Orthodontics has constantly evolved since its inception in ancient times, and innovations have not slowed down. That’s why it’s important to find an orthodontist that stays on the cutting edge of orthodontic technology and advancement. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Ghosh, an orthodontic expert in the Lehigh Valley, to get started on orthodontic treatment. Ghosh Orthodontics is ready to give you something to smile about.

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